Cheltenham picks up crucial win over Hatboro-Horsham

CHELTENHAM >> February means something different to each basketball team playing in it.

Some are trying to close out a league title, others battling for seeding in the district playoffs or trying to earn their way into a conference tournament to stay sharp for the postseason. But not every team is that lucky. There are plenty fighting on the bubble to keep their season alive.

Two of those teams met Thursday when Hatboro-Horsham trekked over to Cheltenham for a critical late-season Suburban One League American Conference girls basketball game.

The Hatters scrapped and fought but couldn’t come up with a game-changing play when they needed one in the fourth quarter as Cheltenham held it together and picked up a huge 47-38 win.

“We had to make sure that we knew what our matchups were and when they shot a shooter through to the other side that defensively we all had to rotate one over,” Cheltenham coach Brendan Nolan said. “They were trying to get an open 3-pointer, we didn’t have to be out pressuring so much.”

In District 1-6A, the top 24 teams make the postseason cut. Cheltenham (12-9, 8-5 conference) began the week at No. 23 in Monday’s power rankings update, but had two tough games in their remaining three. They lost to SOL American frontrunner Plymouth Whitemarsh on Tuesday and have conference heavyweight Upper Dublin next Tuesday to conclude the regular season.

So, Thursday’s matchup was pretty much a must-win. The Panthers played like it in the first half, taking an 11-2 lead and ending the first quarter with a 17-10 advantage. They led 27-18 at the break and were doing a good job of keeping the Hatters (8-14, 6-8) out of sorts offensively.

Hatboro-Horsham’s Cam Ryan drives to the basket pursued by Cheltenham’s Courtney Murray during their game on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

In the third quarter however, Cheltenham got a little too loose and started turning the ball over at a high rate. Hatboro-Horsham, which shoots a lot of 3-point shots, got hot from the perimeter and chiseled the lead all the way down to one, 32-31, going into the final frame.

“Shaky turnovers again plague us,” Nolan said. “We pass as though the other team is just going to let us throw the ball around. They’re trying to steal the ball and sometimes we forget that.”

Coupled with the turnovers, the Panthers lost their way defensively, biting on Hatboro-Horsham’s drives and leaving their shooters open in the corner or on the wings. Panthers forward Mia Leonard had another strong defensive game and Nolan kept imploring his other players not to leave shooters and let the senior handle any drivers.

Instead, Hatters seniors Julia Thornton and Bergen Sims combined for four 3-point makes in the third and a jumper by Kylie Halko with 34.7 left trimming the lead down to one. The Hatters never led in the game, done in by a couple of prolonged scoring droughts.

“I said to the girls that tonight is basically a playoff game,” Nolan said. “I really think we’re in now no matter what happens Tuesday. You can’t be sure, but I think this will get us in.”


Thursday was also Cheltenham senior forward Nashira Brown’s birthday. She got the gift of a win, but she gave her teammates a couple of presents to help get there.

She scored nine points for the game, five of them coming 1:35 apart in the fourth quarter, ahead of an assist on a Caitlin Wallace 3-pointer that put the dagger in the Hatters. Brown’s three-point play with 2:20 to go put the Panthers ahead 40-33, a big play in a clutch moment.

“She has that in her, she has that ability to be a finisher around the bucket,” Nolan said. “She struggled a little bit on Tuesday against PW and I think it really motivated her. She was great at practice last night.

“I tell the girls all the time, you don’t have to be a super-lady out there, just do the things you’re good at.”


Leonard scored 12 points Thursday on just three shots, but her real impact was on the glass and her presence in the lane. The senior, who is in just her fourth year of competitive basketball, had 17 rebounds and four blocked shots, stifling the Hatters’ lone post presence in Lexie Brett.

Despite her relative inexperience, Leonard is very good at defending without fouling and any Hatboro-Horsham player that got into the lane on Thursday rarely had a clean look at a finish.

“She has an unbelievable impact on the game,” Nolan said. “Tuesday night, the minutes she was in the game, we outscored PW and when she wasn’t, they outscored us by about 20. Now, they could say the same with Taylor O’Brien (also in foul trouble) but even their coach said how much the game changed not having her out there.”

Hatboro-Horsham’s Katie Fisher foils a shot by Cheltenham’s Danielle Brown during their game on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

Leonard has put in countless hours of work to make herself into a varsity player. Going from a freshman who couldn’t even go through practice because her skills were so raw to one of the best defensive players in the American is a credit to the senior’s work ethic.

“She holds herself accountable like no high school player I’ve seen,” Nolan said. “That’s a huge thing for a team and we need more of that at Cheltenham, kids who hold themselves and the team accountable. When something’s going wrong, they’re the ones that say it’s us and we fix it ourselves.”


Prior to the season, there probably weren’t too many people who gave the Panthers a shot at making districts. Between graduations and players leaving, Cheltenham was left with its four senior starters and a lot of young players, especially in the backcourt.

Even the seniors didn’t have a ton of experience, but the entire roster has tried to make the most of it. Senior guard Caitlin Wallace led Cheltenham with 15 points on Thursday, hitting four 3-pointers.

“We put a lot of kids out there who maybe weren’t quite ready for the role they’re in this year because we expected them in a different role,” Nolan said. “They rose to the occasion. If you told me that Caitlin Wallace, when she was in 10th grade, would go on to have 15 points in a game like this, I would have said that was crazy. She committed herself to it; she’s out shooting extra shots at practice and is so focused for these moments.”

Should Cheltenham keep its standing in the top 24, Nolan thinks it would be a deserved reward for his team.

“We’ve been through some tough times the past few years and these girls who are left handled it with great poise,” Nolan said. “It’s nice for them to get that reward and I hope they see it that way.”

Cheltenham 47, Hatboro-Horsham 38
Hatboro-Horsham 10 8 13 7 — 38
Cheltenham 17 10 5 15 — 47
Hatboro-Horsham (38): Bergen Sims 4 4-6 15, Kylie Halko 2 0-0 4, Julia Thornton 5 0-1 13, Cam Ryan 1 0-0 2, Lexie Brett 1 2-2 4. Nonscoring: Katie Fisher, Nikki Williams. Totals: 13 6-9 38.
Cheltenham (47): Caitlin Wallace 4 3-7 15, Mia Leonard 3 6-6 12, Nashira Brown 4 1-1 9, Courtney Murray 2 3-4 9, Danielle Brown 1 0-2 2, Kai Williams 0 0-2 0. Nonscoring: Holmes, Johnson. Totals: 14 13-22 47.
3-pointers: HH – Sims 3, Thornton 3; C – Wallace 4, Murray 2.

Top Photo: Cheltenham’s Mia Leonard wins the rebound from Hatboro-Horsham’s Lexie Brett during their game on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

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